Uruguay reports on ibm.com
June 16, 2004
ibm.com came alive ten years ago (May 24, 1994) and I was very fortunate to have been part of the effort. There was a small team that shared a common vision that we called “Get Connected”. On this anniversary, various publications wanted to talk about the history and more importantly the future and I had a great time speaking with them about it. In particular, it was a great pleasure to talk with a handful of major Latin American publications. Following is an English translation of what appeared in the Ultimas Noticias newspaper from Uruguay.
Expert believes sale of products over the Internet has caused “paradigm shift”
The revolution brought about by the sale of products over the web meant a paradigm shift for IT companies and the business world, as well as a step forward in making a company’s products accessible to consumers. The IBM website bears proof to that statement, with 18 million hits per month in Latin America and an online transaction volume exceeding US$ 2 billion.
During June, IBM celebrates the tenth anniversary of www.ibm.com, the site that has positioned itself, in terms of transactions processed, as one of the most active worldwide.
John Patrick, an inventor of ibm.com, shared with Ultimas Noticias in a telephone interview part of the portal’s story, its evolution and a perspective of what the future holds.
The company has played an industry-leading role in the deployment of Internet technologies aiming at the transformation of companies and institutions, while being instrumental in demonstrating the capabilities and potential of the web.
In 2003, the site experienced 18 million hits per month in Latin America, 295 million unique visits worldwide, and 338 million web interactions, resulting in over US$ 2 billion transacted online.
“The creation of ibm.com meant a breakthrough in web-based business, as it enabled anticipating customers’ needs and providing the relevant information, services and products in a timely and efficient manner,” said Patrick.
He noted that “the revolution brought about by the sale of products over the web meant a paradigm shift, not only for IBM but also for the entire business world, as well as a step forward in how a company’s products become available to consumers.”
In this way, ibm.com is IBM’s own e-business on demand, and a key element illustrating how a company can accomplish the transformation required by the new era of e-business on demand.
“ibm.com accounts for a significant share of the company’s annual e-business revenues, and is IBM’s channel with the fastest growing revenues. Its main objective is not only selling products and services to large, medium and small customers, but also broadening and deepening accessibility, service provision and support through an electronic channel that is available 24×7,” added Patrick.
Additionally, he explained that the site combines the world’s largest corporate presence in the web with extensive call center operations, what IBM calls “teleweb.”
Through its teleweb model, based on the combination of IBM’s online operations and its call centers, users can browse the web and then press the “Call Me” or “Chat Online” buttons to connect within seconds with the IBM specialists, who know beforehand which specific product the user has been considering.
“Customers that are more experienced with technology usually prefer a pure end-to-end web experience, while novices sometimes prefer to be assisted by our call center sales specialists. The vast majority, however, prefers a combination of the immediacy and ubiquity of the web with the expertise and responsiveness of our call center representatives,” remarked Patrick.
COSTS AND FUTURE
According to Patrick, a traditional telephone sale takes on average seven contacts per order to be completed. By adding the efficiency and productivity benefits of the teleweb channel, the company intends to reduce the number of contacts per order to three.
During the past year, by combining customer support records, product ownership information and other account data, agents have managed to increase new business by 20% compared to unstructured programs. The same properties, coupled to e-mail-based marketing tools, have expanded the company’s sales opportunities in other lines of business.
“Thanks to the integration of knowledge management tools like Datacase in its contact center operations, ibm.com achieved a 15% increase of agent productivity, based on their ability to solve technical support problems more rapidly and reducing customer call transfer rates.”
Through online services such as Call Me and Chat, ibm.com reached a lead conversion ratio of approximately 5%, outdoing the industry average of 1-2%. In 2002, IBM’s teleweb generated more than 10% of IBM’s overall revenues.
Patrick is very optimistic regarding the future of the Internet, and believes that web communication can still be greatly improved with people and customers all over the world. However, he pointed out, the interests of governments and telcos may limit this advancement.
“Talking over the Internet is much cheaper than over a conventional telephone line, and quality is even better. But this is not in the interest of telcos anywhere in the world,” emphasized Patrick, and added that in the near future, Internet will have a “messenger” equipped with voice recognition capabilities, so typing will no longer be needed to chat online—a feature that will be particularly useful for people with different abilities.
The www.ibm.com website created by Dave Grossman and John Patrick started operating in late May 1994 on an RS/6000 server. The following year, it was expanded to handle the millions of visits generated by the Wimbledon tournament, the US Open, and the Deep Blue chess event. From then on, it has experienced immeasurable growth.
The additional capacity added in 1996 powered the site of the Atlanta Olympic Games and beat all access records. The largest e-commerce site in existence, the Olympic Games site generated one million dollars in ticket sales.
Technological breakthroughs such as ticket server software for the Games have led to the development of the WebSphere line, while the experience gained from the software and event sites has laid the foundation for IBM’s web hosting business.
ShopIBM debuted in April of 1997. “For the first time, IBM’s customers were able to place PCs and software products in a shopping cart and order directly from IBM. Months later, when Gerstner read in a trade magazine the sorry plight of a reporter who unsuccessfully tried to buy a product, he ordered a total overhaul,” says Patrick.
In 1999, the “Bullseye” homepage design standards drove a consistent look and feel for all Web pages. “Ease of doing business became central to how customers judged their supplier relationships,” says Patrick.
In response, IBM merged its “telesales” call centers and the Web management group to form the ibm.com organization responsible for delivering “One IBM” on the Web.
Today, ibm.com has a web presence in 83 countries and is available in approximately 40 languages. It receives on average 4 million visits per week and offers 40,000 products and solutions, ranging from PCs and web servers to software, services and financing online. It comprises over 2,000 websites and 4.5 million web pages—all with a single access point.